By JR Valrey, The Minister of Information
Religious people who believe in the Bible, believe that the first thing in the universe created was the word. Traditional African people that believe in NOMMO, believe in word, sound, power, which refers to the power of being able to manifest what you speak. All of which is similar to what people who speak English call the process of putting together letters to form words, “spelling”, referring to a spell being cast when words are written. Throughout human history, the power to communicate effectively has been considered a divine trait; which gives reason to why rappers are so coveted in Black society in America.
Harold “Epitome” Desmond is a spoken word artist from Oakland that has a lot to say. He has been featured on the projects of hometown heroes like Beeda Weeda and the Livewire camp. He has rocked D’Wayne Wiggins of Tony Toni Tone’s Compound a number of times, which is a major destination for up and coming Bay Area artists as well as those traveling through the Bay. Check out this exclusive interview with one of Oakland’s wordsmiths of the highest order.
JR Valrey: Why did you get into poetry versus rap? What made you get serious about the spoken word?
Harold “Epitome” Desmond: I used to rap during the Hyphy movement. The first CD I remember being on was called “Unlawful Radio”, with Black Azz as the host. I thought it was dope, but I ended up moving to another part of California so my rap career was put on hold. I’d have to drive 2 hours to get to a studio. I ended up moving back later, and the studio was gone, and the vibe wasn’t the same, plus I was going back and forth to jail. One day I was walking through downtown Oakland, and I saw a guy with a camera recording people. He was discussing some of the issues in Oakland, and I asked if I could say something. I did my poem called “Dear Mr. President”, and the person doing the video got really excited, and told me that’s what they were looking for. I asked when it would air, and he told me in a few weeks it would be on a show called “Judge Mathis’ Mean Streets”. A few months had passed, and I assumed it was never going to air. I ended up getting locked up, then released from North County Jail in downtown Oakland, but as I walked up 14th and Broadway, it was hella people running up to shake my hand and tell me to stay at it.
Meanwhile I still hadn’t seen it. So I thought why don’t I start doing spoken word regularly. I started going to Dorsey’s Locker regularly, with Jay Rich as the host. That built the courage to start performing at places like the Air Lounge. Then as my notoriety progressed, I ended up linking with Livewire Records, and ended up on CDs doing spoken word on a few of their projects such as: Stevie Joe’s “80s Baby”, Stevie Joe’s “Shop Open”, and “Pledge Allegiance to the Wire”. Beeda Weeda was also on the “Mean Streets” show, and we ended up running into each other a few times. I told him I may have a poem that would be dope, either before or after he performs “Revolution”, so when he was shooting the video for it, he asked me to spit a poem, and it ended up on BET. That’s when spoken word solidified itself to me, and the rest is history.
JR Valrey: Why is it important for you to have a message in your poetry?
Harold “Epitome” Desmond: I feel like a lot of people don’t have a voice and need someone to speak on certain things. How can you relate to the streets if you’ve never been in them? I’ve been homeless, shot at, jumped, had BM (baby-mama) drama, been to jail, sold D (dope), lost money, and got it back. So if you’ve ever experienced any type of pain, I’m sure I can relate in some way.
JR Valrey: What do you want people to get out of you performing?
Harold “Epitome” Desmond: … A sense of escape and a sense of hope that you can make it through anything, even if you’ve never gone through any of the things I’ve been through. I want people to realize poetry isn’t all incense and “snappin’ ya fingers”. It’s some poets that’s really about that action, and we just speak without a beat behind it.
JR Valrey: Do you have a poetry crew that you rhyme and throw shows with?
Harold “Epitome” Desmond: No, for the most part I’m a lone poet. I don’t like cliquing up, because there is drama in the poetry world just like the rap scene, except it’s a lot more emotional and they’ll black-ball you fast. So I’ve learned that if you want longevity in the spoken word scene, it’s best to separate yourself at times, and take breaks, so the public anticipates seeing you. I do have people I generally rock with, but I have trust issues lol.
JR Valrey: How does the Bay Area spoken word scene look nowadays? What are the strengths and weaknesses?
Harold “Epitome” Desmond: The scene nowadays is somewhat dry, but it’s picking back up. There was a time when there were open mics Mon-Fri, but due to covid and a lot of the venues being shut down, it died down. But I am planning on starting an open mic myself soon, so poets have a space to practice without judgement, and work on their craft.
JR Valrey: What are you currently working on?
Harold “Epitome” Desmond: I’ve been working on a novel, my clothing line, my poetry book, and myself.
JR Valrey: How can people stay online with you?
Harold “Epitome” Desmond: @Epitome510